Cut Me Off

When you work at a local bar, you have to find your own local bar in which to decompress and let it all drift away. The first place I thought was such a place ended up being anything but after the owner fired everyone who knew me as a local. So goes life in the Keys. Easy come, easy go, easily gone. Then I found the next place, where I am sure someone has to die before they get replaced, much less fired. Bartenders here are tenured, entrenched. They are, to a person, golden.

“I’m just drunk enough to tell you this, now that he’s gone to the bathroom,” said the 40-year-old woman who had just paid a “compliment” to one such bartender by telling her she looked “49 at most,” even though said bartender is only 47.

“What?” asked the bartender who is also my professional mentor. She dwarfs me in size and always makes fun of mine, always telling me to “frickin’ eat something already,” even as I order fries and baked potatoes and anything else that won’t poison me, even when it is close to midnight. “Yeah, because someday you’re gonna wake up and look in the mirror and see me!” She is, in my mind, beautiful.

The single most important thing my mentor bartender has taught me is how to handle a drunk who should be served no more. With absolutely no drama, she can cut someone off with little more than a glance and the most subtle shake of her head. Her confidence, her don’t-even-question-me demeanor quiets the crazy ones almost immediately.The first time I saw her do this, I was in awe. The first time I tried it myself, it worked, much to my surprise. Someday, I need to tell her this.

“Ken and I–I mean I know we seem good, but we’re getting divorced,” continued the customer.

I did my best bartender routine to not listen to anything the woman said, even though I heard it all. After all, my mentor bartender had just introduced me to this couple, and they seemed happy enough, even if she was a horrible judge of age.

My bartender mentor nodded toward me for less than half a second, her glance telling me, “Yeah, I’m going in, even though I’d rather not.”

“Oh God, really?” she said to her customer.

“Yeah, we just decided tonight. But we’re the best of friends. We’re going to keep it really friendly. It’ll be fine.”

On this slow night, I had been $20 short in my drawer, which meant I had to make it up out of my already pathetic tips on a slow night. I wanted nothing more than to have my one drink after work at someone else’s bar and be done. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, really. And now I was thrust into someone’s extraordinary, life-changing moment.

“Well, that’s good,” said my mentor, looking around to see who needed another drink. “But wow,what a surprise.”

And as my mentor bartender walked away to tend the other side of the bar, I watched the husband of the couple return from the bathroom. Within mere minutes–less than five–he mentioned a car, and she mentioned how she might need it. He mentioned that he’d made the payments, and she mentioned that she couldn’t believe he was saying that.

Within ten minutes, she told him he’d better stick to what they’d agreed to do, and he told her he would only if she did. She said he wasn’t being fair, and that this was not going to be THAT kind of divorce. He said he knew that, but…. Being just drunk enough, she started to cry. Being just drunk enough, too, he put his arm around her shoulder.

My mentor bartender continued to tend to everyone else. I sighed and took on the couple, now listening, despite my every attempt to only hear them.

“I’m okay. I’m okay,” she said to him, shrugging off his arm as she wiped her eyes and moved her barstool a few inches from his. He stared at her, and through his concern was a slight glimmer of relief. But she wasn’t okay, and he really wasn’t relieved.

“One more round,” he said to my mentor bartender.

“You got it,” she said, grabbing two icy mugs from the freezer under the bar.

I looked at my mentor bartender. She looked at me. I gave her a subtle shake of my head. She gave me a moment’s glance, then smiled.

“On me,” she told the couple.

Within seconds I had my tab. I know exactly when to cut myself off. So does my mentor.







4 responses to “Cut Me Off”

  1. savannah Avatar

    damn, i’m keeping f&b hours again… ;~D i know what you mean about cutting yourself off it’s a hard learned skill, but a good one. i love your mentor. xoxox

  2. Andrea Avatar

    Hello RG,

    I’m a blogger featured on SFDB where I’ve seen your blog. I liked your day at a
    time boy stories.

    I’m in town till tomorrow and wondering where to find good

    Fun town to live in, I’d imagine.

  3. Anon Avatar

    It is always so wonderful to hear how thin you are! Awesome.

    I wonder, did their little scenario remind you anything of your divorce that you don’t really talk about? That must have been hard, huh?

  4. JM Berkowitz Author Avatar

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